(CNN) — There is arguably nothing more glamorous, and chaotic, in sport than an F1 grid just moments before a race.
Flocks of A-listers from the worlds of music, sport, fashion and film descend onto the track to catch a glimpse of the drivers and the cars up close. Social media influencers buzz around promoting both themselves and the brands that invite them, while television cameras navigate the hoards of people, trying to broadcast the race experience to the millions watching at home.
And while stepping onto an F1 grid remains an unfulfilled dream in the lives of many motorsport fanatics around the world, for Jodie Porter, it’s simply a part of the day job.
The 29-year-old is one cog in the winning machine that is Red Bull Racing – a team that has quite simply dominated the sport in recent years.
As part of her role as Head of Hospitality and Special Projects, Porter is often responsible for taking groups of VIPs – including the likes of Kylie Minogue and TV star Terry Crews – into the chaos of an F1 grid.
It’s an experience, she says, which is hard to describe.
“It’s incredible. It’s the best of the sport that you can experience,” Porter tells CNN Sport.
“Other than getting in a F1 car, which is near enough impossible unless you’re a driver, the grid is the next best thing. It’s somewhere that’s not easy to get into. It’s the closest you could ever get to all the cars and drivers at one time. It’s just a show.
“All of our engineers are on the grid as well, they’re doing their last minute briefings and the drivers are taking a moment to just collect their thoughts. The best way I can describe it is like being in a locker room before a game.”
Las Vegas and beyond
Porter joined Red Bull around seven years ago and has seen her responsibilities evolve as the brand became increasingly more successful in the sport.
Her role is now overarching but involves planning the logistics of raceday and making the experience as seamless as possible for Red Bull’s special guests.
As the sport enjoys a spike of popularity in the US, perhaps driven by Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” series, Porter says the demand for tickets has increased, especially at some of the landmark races.
Porter says the decision about which celebs get their hands on the tickets is a collaborative process between F1, the teams and sponsors – with the focus on who can best promote the respective brands.
Some races, it seems, are more popular than others and there are no prizes for guessing which ones are in most demand.
Las Vegas, for example, hosted its inaugural Grand Prix last year and Porter was amid the organized chaos which dripped glitz and glamour.
She says the first Vegas grid walk was perhaps the busiest of her career, and while grateful to be one of the handful of people to experience it, she said the stress of herding a large group of celebrities through the mayhem was a test.
“When you’re there, you’re so focused on making sure that the guests stay out of harm’s way because you’ve got cars coming in at speed through the pit lane and then coming out onto the track,” she explains.
“You can imagine someone going on the grid for the first time – they’re not looking around at their surroundings, they could be distracted, they might be filming or taking selfies and, you know, I’m responsible for ensuring that everyone gets on and off safely.
“So it’s about reminding them, ‘Please be aware of your surroundings. Be aware that there’s cars coming through. Please don’t get run over.’”
Mixing with the stars
Many fans around the world only get to experience the grid through the eyes of one particular journalist: Martin Brundle.
The Sky Sports pundit’s live grid walks have become the stuff of legend in the sport, as he bundles his way through the hordes of people, trying to speak to celebrities about the upcoming race.
It has led to some hilarious, and sometimes awkward, interactions – such as when he mistook NBA star Paolo Banchero for NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes or when he had a run in with a member of US rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s entourage.
“We try not to take anyone on the grid that’s not willing to engage with the media because we just feel like if you’re coming on and having that really exclusive experience and aren’t happy to engage [with the media] it’s a shame because the idea of the grid is that it’s promoting the best of the sport,” Porter says.
“Martin Brundle’s iconic grid walk is something that I always remember from a child. So it’s about ensuring [VIPs] have the right messaging when they’re on that grid so they are promoting the sport and promoting us as a team as well.”
With multiple grid walks in her back pocket, Porter knows to expect the unexpected. She recalls a number of “pinch me” moments of shuttling the world’s biggest stars across the tarmac, but one particular story stands out.
She was in Monaco last season – argubaly the sport’s marquee race – and was looking after pop superstar Kylie Minogue during the grid walk.
As they approached the grid, Porter says a security guard stopped the Australian singer from entering because her open-toe sandals were not permitted on the track.
It led to Minogue pairing her “stunningly beautiful” suit with a pair of chunky track shoes that were two sizes too big, given to her by Porter’s colleague off her own feet.
“It was a really funny moment for everybody,” Porter says, adding she was relieved Minogue saw the funny side.
“It was just one of those moments that you’ll certainly remember.”
More than a sport
With the new F1 season set to start on March 2, fans are already getting excited for the return of full-throttle action.
News of Lewis Hamilton’s shock move to Ferrari in 2025 only ramped up expectations for what promises to be another drama-fueled year of racing.
But Porter is fully aware that F1 is no longer just about the motorsport, it’s about everything else that comes with it.
In a bid to capitalize and build on the sport’s popularity, Porter organizes special events to provide fans with unique experiences. Last year, she organized a four-day Grand Tour ahead of the Las Vegas race.
The VIP experience involved a drive from the Californian coast to the track in Sin City, including special meet and greets with the team’s stars along the way.
Such events are a sign that F1 is currently winning in its mission to modernize a sport which is showing no signs of slowing down.
For Porter, she is excited to keep pushing the boundaries in what will be Red Bull’s 20th anniversary in the sport.
“I’m excited for 2024, you know, there’s lots going on and we’re looking forward to it building out what that vision looks like for next year,” she says.
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